All Thanks to Susan B. Anthony

“Hey babe, can you come here and give me a hand for a minute?”. I step away from the plastic bin I’ve been using as a temporary dish station for the past 45 minutes, hands soapy and greasy. “Can you hold this board up. OK, now can you hand me that hammer?”. “Yes, dear”.

When we first bought this house, before the wedding, before the move, before the work, I had a vision in my head of the two of us working side by side. Day after day we would saw and hammer, plan and design, sweat and problem solve. We would finish our long days exhausted, but filled with a sense of accomplishment at what we had achieved. We would have fun during the process, joking and laughing our way through errors that more experienced builders wouldn’t make. Birds would sing. Music would be playing in the background…the good life.

I can see you shaking your head. Those of you who are long-married or have attempted a renovation project with your partner before are in awe of my naivety.

The truth is that while this is a partnership, a marriage you might say, of two people working together to renovate a house, it hasn’t exactly played out like I imagined. There are a few major contributing factors:

  1. M.C. Estwing is much more handy than me. He has done all this before. I haven’t.
  2. I have a much lower tolerance for mess and dirt than MC, especially in our “living” areas.
  3. MC is actually quite a bit stronger than I am, and can work harder and longer.
  4. I have mad computer and telephoning skills.

This has led to a division of labor of sorts. On this project team M.C. has landed himself the role of head carpenter and builder.

Which leaves June the roles of cook, housekeeper, secretary, oh yeah, and let’s not forget apprentice. Guess which one of us is more displeased with their roles.

I see you nodding your heads again, all you long-married experienced renovators.

I am being a bit unfair to MC here. He has been fantastic about ensuring that we are both equally involved in the design process. Truly, he is working is butt off, long physical hours, that leave him drained. And, most importantly, he has been receptive to my feedback of the process so far.

He has also tried to engage me as much as possible in daily building tasks. This has been met with mixed success. My learning curve is steep, and his desire to see me succeed is high. This leads him to offer advice. A lot of advice. Often a lot of unsolicited advice. This doesn’t go over well.

Eventually I tire of being out of my comfort zone and efficiency wins over. My role gradually swings to go-for – “Can you pass me this? Can you hand me that? Can you bring this outside?”. I think of all the other things that need doing, and usually opt out and head for some chore that is waiting to be done. It certainly isn’t a scene filled with laughing and joking.

To be honest, the fact is that I do gain pleasure from creating a beautiful home, preparing a nice meal for my husband, and maintaining our social and business networks. I guess the problem is that I know that he would enjoy these things too, if only he had the time. Just as I would enjoy being more involved in the building, if I had the time to work through it at my own pace.

But in the end it really is just the case that he is a better builder, and I am a better homemaker. It is easier, more efficient for us each to take on the roles we are best at, and so that is what we slide back to, again and again. If we had been married at the beginning of the last century we wouldn’t have given a second thought to this division of labor.

So the challenge is this, and I pose this question to any wise person who can offer insight: How do we create a partnership where we encourage each other to break out of our comfort zones? Or is that even necessary? Should we stick to our strengths and each be the master of our own domains? Have I been raised in a post women’s lib era that has me chasing an unattainable working relationship pipe dream whose pursuit will only leave us both grumbling?

-June Cleverer

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